Karnes County fatalities emphasize need for work zone safety

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

April 26, 2012 at 5:04 p.m.
Updated April 26, 2012 at 11:27 p.m.

Ned Pyatt, a maintenance supervisor for Victoria County, and his son, Jacob, 7, at the Texas Department of Transportation's kickoff for the National Work Zone Safety Awareness Campaign.

Ned Pyatt, a maintenance supervisor for Victoria County, and his son, Jacob, 7, at the Texas Department of Transportation's kickoff for the National Work Zone Safety Awareness Campaign.   Melissa Crowe for The Victoria Advocate

Semitrucks, sedans and motorcycles jetted through the work zone Thursday morning outside McCoy's Building Supply on Zac Lentz Parkway.

A few caution signs, orange cones and vests are the work crew's only defense against the 50 mph traffic rushing past.

Texas Department of Transportation began a campaign Thursday encouraging safe driving through work zone sites.

Jerral Wyer, TxDOT's occupational safety director, said that every 10 hours, a work zone sees one fatality.

Wyer said that on any given day, there are 1,000 active work zones in Texas. A local TxDOT official said about 60 sites are open throughout the Yoakum district any given time.

A fatal wreck at 2:11 p.m. Wednesday in a Karnes County work zone killed two retired school teachers and injured two men.

Gary Deskin, 69, of Karnes City, was driving 2007 Toyota Avalon westbound from Victoria when road crews working on westbound state Highway 239, near mile marker 540, signaled for him to stop, according to information from the Department of Public Safety in San Antonio.

Dan Tucker, 59, of Runge, was following behind in a semi-truck, and failed to stop.

DPS Trooper Scott Jendrzey said there were signs posted to alert drivers about the work zone.

"It had to do with not paying attention," he said.

Deskin had three passengers: John Ray Harris, no age available, of Tuleta; Margaret Lou Hensley, 59, of Karnes City; and Carol Williamson Harris, 69, of Tuleta. All four were wearing seatbelts.

The two women died and Deskin and Harris were transferred to University Hospital in San Antonio with neck and back injuries.

Wyer said one in three work zone accidents is the result of a rear-end collision.

"As you drive upon your next work zone, remember its someone's mother or father, son or daughter out there working," Wyer said.

Randy Bena, an engineer with the Victoria County TxDOT office, cautioned drivers using U.S. Highway 87 in Nursery, the roads leading to Port of Victoria and U.S. Highway 59 from U.S. Highway 87 to Telferner.

Bena said new development in the area brings newly licensed truck drivers on top of drivers new to the area, which cause a bad mix if other drivers are not paying attention.

"Just be aware," he said.

Hazel Zepeda, a TxDOT traffic safety specialist, said more than four of every five victims in a work zone crash are motorists.

"Road workers are doing their part to build and improve the roads and bridges we all depend on, so let's keep them safe by obeying posted speed limits and putting cell phones away," Zepeda said.

Gerald Bryant, a Department of Public Safety trooper, has patrolled the highways the past 38 years.

He said drivers are more distracted these days than ever before.

He used to tell new troopers to count the number of drivers on their phones.

"It's easier to count the number of drivers not on their cell phones now," he said. "When you're on your phone, you're 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash, according to our crash records."

According to TxDOT statistics, in 2011, 81,103 crashes involved distracted driving. Of those wrecks, 361 were fatal.

Jacob Pyatt, 7, of Victoria, spoke on behalf of his father, Ned, a maintenance supervisor for Victoria County.

"Drive safely through work zones to keep my Daddy safe," he said.



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